As I was saying
: the previous weekend I took the girlfriend to the Royal Opera House
to see Harrison Birtwistle’s
latest, and supposedly last, opera The Minotaur
. In its music, structure, dramatic presentation, and high seriousness, The Minotaur
is a direct descendant of Wagner’s musical dramas. The drama tells in stark, bold strokes the myth of the Minotaur Asterios
, Ariadne and Theseus; its bluntness focuses the mind on the story’s ancient roots, while the modernity of its interpretation is found through what is omitted from the tale. The most telling moment comes at the end, when Theseus slays the monster. No more of the story is told, of Theseus return or Ariadne’s fate: we are left with the Minotaur dying alone, contemplating his doomed botch of a life.
All that is best in Birtwistle’s
music is heard in this opera, as with his massive orchestral movement Earth Dances
it has a relentless power to it, like a force of nature that can barely be repressed. In The Minotaur
this force comes with greater subtlety and nuance; closer attention to the implacable drive of the score reveals a wealth of small details and shifting instrumental colours. The singers’ securely modernist melodic lines were surprisingly singable and clear despite their evident difficulty. It was hardly necessary to look at the surtitles to follow the libretto.
I wonder for how much longer we can expect new operas like this to be produced: so heavily reliant upon the traditional material support and performance tradition of the opera house, yet demanding from the musicians interpretive abilities from an avant-garde idiom alien to most opera repertory. It is a work that embraces the Western operatic heritage, but rejects the comfortable nostalgia that would allow it to be easily accepted into that heritage.
At times I was conscious of witnessing two historical cultures, the ancient Greek and the grand operatic. There were moments when both cultures strained against each other and the contemporary world, requiring a more conscious suspension of disbelief, but more often they spoke across the years with surprising clarity and directness.
With the exception of the Minotaur’s limited insight, the characters’ actions and motivations remained on the level of myths, unexplored and often curiously impassive. There was no need to burden them with psychological or political baggage; the drama’s measured pacing and unyielding music allowed the audience’s minds to meditate upon their emotional states and form their own responses.
(Tomorrow: part two, Luigi Nono’s Prometeo.)
There is in Rauschenberg
, between him and what he picks up to use, the quality of an encounter. For the first time.
Having made the empty canvases (A canvas is never empty.
became the giver of gifts. Gifts, unexpected and unnecessary, are ways of saying Yes to how it is, a holiday. The gifts he gives are not picked up in distant lands but are things we already have… and so we are converted to the enjoyment of our possessions. Converted from what? From wanting what we don’t have, art as a pained struggle.
To Whom It May Concern: The white paintings came first; my silent piece came later.
- John Cage, “On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, And His Work” (1961).
The Director of the Eurovision Song Contest, Bjorn Erichsen, came this close
to catching a clue when he complained to the BBC this week that their choice of host is a “problem” which is undermining the contest’s reputation
Terry Wogan is a problem because he makes it ridiculous. I know he is very popular, and maybe that is the reason why a lot of people watch… The BBC gets a very large audience but it chooses to represent the Contest in a certain way. They take it far more seriously in Sweden. They have a genuine love and respect for it.
How dare Wogan make Eurovision a popular, high-rating show, and retain a huge viewing audience in Britain while ratings across the rest of western Europe have nosedived? What we really need is sober, introspective chin-stroking over “Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley
Hey, goth kids! Wanna know what the mysterious, mind-expanding “green fairy” of absinthe really is? Booze!
I there some momentous astronomical event happening that I’m not aware of? Mission to Mars
is on telly right now. RMIT Project Space in Melbourne has just opened a show called The Mars Project
(“Tapping into primordial hopes and fears, the dream to make Mars a life-sustaining planet possibly connects us to our past more than it does to our future”), followed by – hey!
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, the 55th Carnegie International has just opened, the theme: Life on Mars
(“The question, “Is there life on Mars?” is a rhetorical one, posed in the face of a world in which increasingly accelerating global events…”)
The Barbican Art Gallery in London is showing the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art
(“…presents contemporary art works under the fictional guise of a museum collection conceived by and designed for extraterrestrials.”) Well did you ever?
I was going to finish my rave about Harrison Birtwistle
‘s new opera The Minotaur
, which I took my girlfriend to see at the Royal Opera House last weekend. (Warning: we’ve been together for a few years – this is not a good date opera!) However, I got distracted by finally
working out how to make the header on the archive pages
clickable to get you back to the front page of the blog. It’s a good day.
The last opera I saw was Satyagraha
, over a year ago; and this weekend I’ll be at Southbank for Luigi Nono’s Prometeo
. For all the musical and dramatic power of Birtwistle’s opera, thinking of it in retrospect makes it seem almost quaintly conventional compared to these two other works; but that’s hardly a fair assessment.
I’m still trying to figure out what to play for my gig at Horse Bazaar
(Wednesday 11 June!), so The Minotaur
review may come out before or after I’ve seen Prometeo
. If the latter, I’ll try to resist making comparisons.
His faith may have guaranteed him an eternal reward in heaven, but that hasn’t stopped an unrealised desire from gnawing away at Cliff Richard for the past forty years. He’s still bellyaching over coming second in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest.
But now, the hope of salvation is on the horizon*: the winning song, Spain’s imaginatively titled “La La La”, is accused of having won through vote rigging by Franco himself
According to Montse Fernandez Vila, the director of the film called 1968: I lived the Spanish May, Franco was determined to claim Eurovision glory for his own country. The investigation, which is due to be broadcast shortly, details how El Generalísimo was so keen to improve Spain’s international image that he sent corrupt TV executives across Europe to buy goodwill in the run-up to the contest.
The two funniest moments in this report come when the 1968 Richard is referred to as a “starlet” (that can’t be right
, can it?) , and that reference to “corrupt TV executives”. Apparently, duchessing is corrupt only when it is performed by TV executives, not by other businessmen, politicians, or Olympics officials.
* I know that phrase sounds meaningless, but it’s no worse than Sir Cliff saying, “I’d be quite happy to be able to say I won Eurovision ’68. It’s an impressive date in the calendar these days.” It’s a cheesy song contest Cliff, not one of your cheap, Portuguese wines.
23 November 2003:
I decide to make some music as quickly as possible. I open Scala
, a program which generates and analyses musical scales, and ic
, an I Ching simulator Andrew Culver wrote for John Cage.
In imitation of Warren Burt’s 39 Dissonant Etudes
, I decide to make eight one-minute pieces, each using different microtonal equal temperament scales. Equal temperament scales, including today’s standard Western 12-tone scale, have a sort of left-side-of-the-brain organisational logic to them, but otherwise have no harmonic sense. I like the idea of using the sophisticated algorithms of Scala to make obtuse, inelegant scales.
Scala has an on-screen virtual keyboard, which lets you play directly with the scale you’ve just created. Rather than impose any compositional system, I go against my usual musical tendencies and improvise on the virtual keyboard, using the computer keyboard and mouse. The unfamiliar user interface, tuning, and piano keyboard layouts mitigate any musical facility I may have acquired over the years.
I record 24 improvisations, each one exactly one minute long. Each improvisation is recorded in a single take, without rehearsal or revision. Each improvisation is played in a different scale, ranging from 6 tones per octave to 29 tones per octave.
For my instruments, I use Gort’s Midget
, a bank of synthesiser patches which take up a total of just 2 kilobytes of memory. Midget has 12 patches, so I can use each one for two different scales. The choice of which patch to play which sale is decided by ic
I also use ic to select which improvisations should be overdubbed, to create composite pieces. The result is a suite of eight one-minute pieces for one to six instruments, in various clashing tonalities…
Each mp3 is about half a megabyte of memory.
1. Lento. | 2. Semplice. | 3. Allegro giocoso.| 4. Andante mystico.| 5. Grave, mesto.| 6. Leggiero.| 7. Tranquillo.| 8. Intensivo.